April 14, 2024

There are many variations of an ancient Hindu story about what holds the world up.  In my favorite version the novice comes to his master and asks what holds the world in place.  The master says, “The world is held up by a giant elephant.”  The novice thinks for a moment, then asks, “But what holds up the elephant?”  “The elephant,” says the master, “stands on the back of a huge turtle.”  “And what about the turtle?” comes the next question.  “The turtle stands on the back of another turtle,” says the wise old master, “but you can stop right there.  It’s turtles all the way down.”

I don’t think the story is really about what holds the world up.  I think it’s about the need to have answers.

I recently needed some answers.  I bought a new generator a little over a month ago.  I had trouble with it from the get go.  It had trouble starting.  I had techs from the company that sold it to me at the house twice.  Finally, they discovered that it had a defective battery.  So they replaced the battery and the problem was solved.  The generator started up just fine without the pull chord.  Then, as you may recall, a couple of weeks ago the power went out.  So, I started up the generator, hooked up the line to the house sub-panel, and the lights worked, but the refrigerator went on and off and the furnace and well pump didn’t work.  So, I wanted the people who sold it to me to take it back and return my money.  They wouldn’t do that, and insisted there was no problem with their generators.  I was preparing to file suit against them, so I hired an electrician to come to the house and test the generator and the continuity of the sub panel.  I wanted answers!  Then, I got my answer.  It turned out, much to my chagrin, that the problem was a prong on my 220 plug that was loose and not getting a solid connection.  I had some crow to eat.  Well, at least I got my answer!

We all want answers.  You and I would like to know what holds the world up.  We’d like just a little clarity about things that seem to be a kind of theoretical, metaphysical mush.  We’d like the Divine intentions for humanity to be unveiled, and the world to be a bit less confusing.  We’d like it to make sense that children starve in a distant war-ravaged land and homeless people die of exposure on city streets in America while corporate executives get six figure salaries and outrageous pensions.  We’d like to be wrapped in comforting bands of reason and divine revelation that would close out all the nagging questions about why greed and pride and violence seem to sit enthroned in our world, while loving-kindness, understanding and forbearance seem always to be on the chopping block.  We’d like answers.  What holds the world up?  Does anything?

Has there ever been a generation that didn’t want such answers?  Has there ever been a soul on this earth who didn’t want to have it made a bit more clear, and a bit more easy?   You may have found a few answers to your questions; and if you are very, very fortunate, you have discovered that there are many more questions yet unanswered.  What you have been doing most of your life, and to a large degree, what we’re acknowledging here today, is a journey – a journey of questions and of discovery.  In a crowded world of ideas, doctrines, expectations, assumptions and dictates, you have been finding and making room.

That is, perhaps what we most need, you and I.  With everyone around us seemingly clamoring to say the same things, to mouth the popular slogans, and pay lip service to the gods of our culture, the air starts to get a little thin.  With folks all crammed into the same fashions and fads, and pushing to get to the head of some arbitrary line, life can begin to feel a bit cramped.  With authorities telling you what to do, politicians telling you what to think, and preachers telling you what to believe, it can all start to feel a little confining.  With generators not powering the house and squabbles with dealers, one can feel like it’s just one more hassle to fill up life with troubles.  You and I need room.  We all need room – room to think, room to question, room to grow.  I believe with all my heart that’s what is intended for us.

The Psalmist certainly felt it.  He looked around at all the people who were grasping for easy answers and knew that was not for him.  The writer of this Psalm calls attention to the “. . . many who say, ‘O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!’” And it’s apparent that they are simply looking for the Almighty to make everything OK, so they can stop wondering and questioning and searching.  They want to always be content with life, as they had been “when their grain and wine abound.”  You see, life seems relatively easy when things are good.  When there’s a shiny new car or two in the garage, and several hundred thousand in the 401K, it’s easier to not be troubled by the deep and disturbing questions of meaning, and faith, and mortality – or so we think.  In truth, these comforts of life, are simply smoke screens to hide the fear that lurks always beneath the surface of daily existence.  We crowd our world so full of possessions and desires that we don’t have space anywhere in our minds to be reminded of how scared we might be beneath it all.

In the midst of this mindless press of desire and gratification, what is it that the Psalmist gives thanks for?  It’s here in the first verse: “You gave me room when I was in distress.”  Isn’t that an amazing affirmation?  “You gave me room.”  The Psalmist is grateful because fear is gone – because in the freedom of faith, in the security of knowing that your life, and all of your tomorrows are held in the bosom of the Lord, there is room – room to think, room to question, room to grow.  It’s so much easier to openly question, and freely grow when you’re not pressed in on all sides by the raging competition to succeed over others, or desperately chasing gratification, or accumulating possessions to crowd out the fear.

That’s the gift of faith.  To live with faith is to live free from fear.  And to live free from fear is to live with the capacity to become more than you are.  It is to have room.

Today, we affirm that in our time together and our praise and affirmation, there is room – room in our lives for questions, room to challenge authority, room to find your own path, room to grow.

Along with our Discernment Committee, all the congregation is engaged in an effort to spy out our common values and our identity and future as a church.  In this process we are also seeking room.  It is that room to question, and room to differ and learn from one another that makes us who we are.  Ours is the kind of church that celebrates the individual soul in search of truth.  That’s why we don’t require new members to recite some long creed as a test of true faith.  That’s why we lift up the freedom of the pulpit and the freedom of the pew (you can’t tell me what to preach, and I can’t tell you what to believe).  We center our community around our common commitment to Christ.  But each of us understands in his or her own way what it is to follow Christ, and none of us (including myself) has the authority to dictate what others must believe.  We cherish this “soul liberty” because it allows us to question authority: whether it really is “turtles all the way down,” and gives us that essential gift that the Psalmist celebrated those thousands of years ago, the gift of room.

I love the verses by Mary Lathbury, the Chautauqua Laureate, from her Song of Hope.  I leave you with them:

Children of yesterday,

Heirs of Tomorrow,

What are you weaving?

Labor and sorrow?

Look to your looms again,

Faster and faster

Fly the great shuttles

Prepared by the Master.

Life’s in the loom,

Room for it – room!


May all of you be blessed on your journeys.

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